Life Extension Magazine March 2011
How Curcumin Protects Against Cancer
By J. Everett Borger
According to the American Cancer Society,1 one out of every three women in the United States risks developing some form of cancer over the course of their lives. For men, that number rises to one in two. Since cancer is an age-related disease, the risk of diagnosis increases the longer one lives, making it the second leading cause of death in this country.2,3
These data underscore a stark reality. When it comes to cancer prevention, the medical establishment and drug company profiteers remain grossly negligent in protecting the public. The result is countless avoidable cancer deaths each year. There is an urgent need to provide aging individuals with validated interventions to target cancer’s multiple causative factors before they take hold.
Among the most compelling and underrecognized of these is curcumin. In contrast to mainstream oncology’s focus on single-agent toxic treatments, curcumin has emerged as a potent multimodal cancer-preventing agent, with 240 published studies appearing in the global scientific literature in the past year alone.
In this article, you will learn of the multiple factors involved in carcinogenesis (cancer development). You will discover up-to-date research demonstrating curcumin’s power to disrupt specific molecular mechanisms that lead to cancer—and to even treat the disease in many cases.
System-Wide, Safe, Multimodal Defense
Curcumin is derived from the Indian spice turmeric and possesses several active components, all of which contribute to its anti-inflammatory and chemopreventive power.4-6 In fact, curcumin targets ten causative factors involved in cancer development.
Disrupting any one of these factors gives you a good chance of preventing cancer; disrupting several provides even greater protection, including the prevention of DNA damage.7
By blocking the inflammatory master molecule nuclear factor-kappaB (or NF-kB), curcumin blunts cancer-causing inflammation, slashing levels of inflammatory cytokines throughout the body.8,9 Curcumin also interferes with production of dangerous advanced glycation end products that trigger inflammation which can lead to cancerous mutation.10
Curcumin alters cellular signaling to enhance healthy control over cellular replication, which tightly regulates the cellular reproductive cycle, helping to stop uncontrolled proliferation of new tissue in tumors.11 It promotes apoptosis in rapidly reproducing cancer cells without affecting healthy tissue11-13 and reins in tumor growth by making tumors more vulnerable to pharmacologic cell-killing treatments.11,14
In addition, curcumin regulates tumor suppressor pathways and triggers mitochondrial-mediated death in tumor tissue, thereby increasing the death of cancer cells.11,15
Finally, curcumin interferes with tumor invasiveness and blocks molecules that would otherwise open pathways to penetration of tissue.2 It also helps to starve tumors of their vital blood supply and it can oppose many of the processes that permit metastases to spread.8,16,17 These multi-targeted actions are central to curcumin’s capacity to block multiple forms of cancer before they manifest.
Combating Deadly Cancers in Women
Breast cancers vary widely in their responsiveness to standard treatment. Cancers that depend on the hormone estrogen for survival are more effectively treated with conventional methods. Those that lack receptors for female hormones are far more resistant to treatment. This is where curcumin’s value truly lies, because it has the ability to induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) in a variety of hormone-negative cancers.18-20 Remarkably, curcumin produces virtually no change in healthy breast cells, with very low toxicity even at doses as high as 8,000 mg daily.21
In human cancer patients, curcumin doses as high as 3,600 mg a day have been shown to induce the following favorable anti-cancer effects:
Curcumin has also been shown to effectively combat cervical cancer, a leading cause of cancer death in women in developing nations and a common cancer in this country.29 It is caused largely by infection with the human papilloma virus, or HPV. Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory effects break the link that triggers HPV-induced cancer development.29,30
Curcumin further promotes apoptosis of cancer cells within the lining of the uterus and reduces the growth rate of painful but non-malignant uterine leiomyomas (uterine fibroids). 31-34
Collectively, these effects make curcumin attractive both as a primary chemopreventive agent in women at risk for breast cancer and an adjuvant treatment option in those who have already developed the disease.20,21
Prostate Cancer Defense
Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in American men.35,44 Fortunately, its long latency period and slow growth rate make it a prime candidate for prevention.36 Curcumin strikes at multiple targets in prostate malignancies, interfering with the spread of cancer cells and regulating inflammatory responses through the master regulator NF-kB.36-38
Like certain breast cancers, prostate cancer is often dependent on sex hormones for its growth. Curcumin reduces expression of sex hormone receptors in the prostate, which speeds androgenic breakdown and impairs cancer cells’ ability to respond to the effects of testosterone.39-42 It also inhibits cancer initiation and promotion43 by blocking metastases from forming in the prostate and regulating enzymes required for tissue invasiveness.44
Combating Gastrointestinal Cancers
Colorectal cancer is the third most common malignancy in adults and the second leading cause of cancer deaths.45,46 Despite aggressive surgical care and chemotherapy, nearly 50% of people with colorectal cancers develop recurrent tumors.47 This may be due in part to the survival of dangerous colon cancer stem cells that resist conventional chemotherapy and act as “seeds” for subsequent cancers.3,48,49
On the other hand, these cancers are excellent candidates for prevention, since they follow a predictable sequence from non-malignant polyps to full-blown cancerous growths, usually requiring a decade to develop.46
Much as with malignancies of the breast, cervix, and prostate, curcumin slows the progression from colon polyp to cancer by damping down the inflammatory cascade triggered by NF-kB and pro-inflammatory cytokines.6 This halts the growth of cancer cells before they can become detectable tumors via a host of interrelated molecular mechanisms.50,51
Curcumin also creates a gastrointestinal environment more favorable to optimal colon health by reducing levels of so-called secondary bile acids, natural secretions that contribute to colon cancer risk.52 That has a direct effect, inhibiting proliferation of cancer cells and further reducing their production.53
Curcumin also suppresses colon cancer when combined with other polyphenols such as resveratrol.46,54 The combination of curcumin with green tea extracts has prevented experimentally induced colon cancer in rats.55
Curcumin also synergizes with standard chemotherapy drugs, helping to boost their efficacy and potentially reduce the dose of toxic chemotherapy products, minimizing needless harm and suffering for cancer patients.45,47-49 Curcumin increases colon cancer cell response to radiation.56
A novel feature of curcumin is its ability to bind to and activate vitamin D receptors in colon cells.57 Vitamin D is known to exert potent anti-cancer properties.
Curcumin is equally powerful at preventing cancers in the stomach. It inhibits growth and proliferation of human gastric cancer cells in the laboratory and is particularly effective in stopping cancers that have become resistant to multiple drug treatment.58-60 Curcumin can prevent gastric cancer cells from progressing through their growth cycle, blocking further tumor growth.60
Infection with the bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is a known cause of gastritis, peptic ulcer, and gastric cancer.61 Curcumin blocks growth of H. pylori and reduces the rate at which stomach cells react by turning cancerous.61,62 This effect is again related to curcumin’s fundamental ability to block activation of inflammatory NF-kB.62
Further Preventive Potential
Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and gene-regulating powers have been explored in preventing or treating cancers of the blood-forming system (leukemias, lymphomas, and myelomas) as well as those of the brain, lung, and bladder.12,13,63-81 Even aggressive tumors of the head and neck, often following years of smoking, are proving responsive to curcumin treatment.14,82-85 Curcumin is also emerging as a potentially effective intervention for pancreatic cancer—one of cancer’s most lethal and aggressive forms.86-90
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the US, and the risk of developing the disease increases significantly as we age.
Curcumin has emerged as a potent cancer-preventing agent, with 240 published studies appearing in the global scientific literature in the past year. Curcumin’s multimodal effects act to simultaneously counter ten discrete causative factors in cancer development.
It intervenes at each stage in the complex sequence of events that must occur in order for a cancer to develop, progress, invade, and ultimately metastasize to healthy tissue.
The multi-targeted mechanisms of curcumin have yielded compelling results in combating a remarkably broad array of cancers, including those of the breast, uterus, cervix, prostate, and GI tract. A burgeoning body of research demonstrates curcumin’s potential to counter cancers of the blood, brain, lung, and bladder as well.
If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Health Advisor at
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